Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Summertime" and "A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke sings "Summertime" by George Gershwin, one of the great
American composers. Cooke recorded it in 1957.


And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Oh, Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky

But until that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mammy standing by

And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

One of America's greatest singers, Sam Cooke's life was cut short when he was shot and killed in Los Angeles. He was 33 at the time. More about Sam Cooke (1931-64) at Songs of Sam Cooke.

Sam Cooke sings "A Change is Gonna Come,"
a Civil Rights anthem he wrote in 1964, the year of his death.

"A Change is Gonna Come"

I was born by the river in a little tent
And just like that river I've been running ever since
It's been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die
'Cause I don't know what's out there beyond the sky
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie
And I go down town
somebody keep telling me don't hang around
It's been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But he winds up knockin' me
Back down on my knees

There were times when I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gone come, oh yes it will

Friday, June 20, 2014

1B: Last Week Schedule Summer 2014

Week 6
M 6/23
DUE: Six Word Stories or other creative writing to Inscape (due Mon. June 23rd 5%).
Follow Inscape submission guidelines.
Carver: “They’re Not Your Husband” (44); “Why Don’t You Dance?” (152);
“Where I’m Calling From” (278); “Chef’s House” (297)
T 6/24
Six Word Story: Did you follow directions and submit a hard copy and email copy to me?
Carver: “Fever” (303); “A Small Good Thing” (376); “Boxes” (409)
W 6/25
Carver: “Intimacy” (444); “Elephant” (472)
Th 6/26
Class will start at 10:00A.M. and end at NOON (OR EARLIER) 
A reminder:  our final exam is this Thursday, June 26th, at 10:00 AM.  The class will end at noon, or earlier.  Don't be late.  There will be no make-ups or extended times for those who don't make the class or arrive late. Bring a blue book, blue or black ink pen, and your copy of Carver's Where I'm Calling From.
We will discuss the final exam briefly during Wednesday's class.

Updated Grade Values
Essay #1 (Short Stories from Week 1–-10%)  
Essay #2  (Short Stories & Cultural Studies—10%)    
Essay #3  (Death of a Salesman—10%)
Essay #4 (Poetry & Art — 20%)
Essay #5 (Carver—25%)
Reading Responses and Quizzes (20%)

Six Word Stories or other creative writing to Inscape (due Mon. June 23rd -- 5%—credit/no credit)

1B: Raymond Carver (1938-1988)

Raymond Carver (1938-88) said in a 1977 interview,
 “I am beginning to feel like a cigarette with a body attached to it.”
Photograph by Bob Adelman, Syracuse, New York, 1984.

"A writer ought to speak about things that are important to him. . . . I tend to go back to the time and the people I knew well when I was younger and who made a very strong impression on me . . . . most of the people in my stories are poor and bewildered, that's true. The economy, that's important . . . I don't feel I'm a political writer and yet I've been attacked by right-wing critics in the U.S.A. who blame me for not painting a more smiling picture of America, for not being optimistic enough, for writing stories about the people who don't succeed. But these lives are as valid as those of the go-getters. Yes, I take unemployment, money problems, and marital problems as givens in life. People worry about their rent, their children, their home life. That's basic. That's how 80-90 percent, or God knows how many people live. I write stories about a submerged population, people who don't always have someone to speak for them. I'm sort of a witness, and, besides, that's the life I myself lived for a long time. I don't see myself as a spokesman but as a witness to these lives. I'm a writer."
--Raymond Carver

The above remarks by Carver were taken from an interview he did in spring 1987. For the complete text of this interview and one other with Carver, view this link.

Things to do when you're reading Carver

One:  [Recommended.] Watch the videos, above, about Carver.
Two: [Recommended.] Read the Carver pages at the Poetry Foundation.
Three: [Recommended.Read Carver's interview with the Paris Review, from Summer 1983.
Four: [Recommended]:  Read articles, take your pick, on Carver that are linked at The New York Times.
Five: [Recommended]: Visit The New Yorker's Raymond Carver page.  The magazine has published many of Carver's stories and remembrances of him over the years. The draft of the story, "Beginners," which became "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," can be found  here.  The Gordon Lish edited version--"Beginners," heavily edited--also appears at The New Yorker's site.  It is an excellent example of the dynamics, or call it the conflict, that exist between writer and editor. See a discussion of Carver's July 8, 1980 letter to Lish, protesting recent editorial cuts (some as much as 70%) of his collection of stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.  Letters from Carver to Lish, including the July 8, 1980 Carver letter to Lish, can be found here. 

Raymond Carver, Summer 1969. Photograph by Gordon Lish

Six: The Library of America publishes, as they say, "Authoritative texts of great American writing." They have a page on Carver. They also made a statement on Gordon Lish's editing of "Beginners"/"What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" and a letter, a tortured letter, by Carver with a plea to Lish to return the story more closely to the original. The Library of America's statement and Carver's letter appear here.
Seven:  Thanks to Andy Ngo of English 1B, here's "The Bath" in PDF. If this link is broken, find :"The Bath" at this address: http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/fms/Colleges/College%20of%20Humanities%20and%20Social%20Sciences/EMS/Readings/139.105/Additional/The%20Bath%20-%20Raymond%20Carver.pdf.
Eight: Find an early version of "So Much Water So Close to Home" right here. Please note, however, that this version incorrectly includes a question mark ("?") at the end of the story; it should end with a period.

Redesign of Raymond Carver book covers by Todd Hido

Nine: Carver's stories have inspired a number of films.  They include  Short Cuts by Robert Altman (and a cast of dozens, at least).  Go here to read an interview with filmmaker Altman and poet Tess Gallagher, Carver's widow. Here's Roger Ebert's review of Short Cuts. A list of other Carver-inspired films can be found at IMDB.
Ten: Want to learn more about Carver and his editor, Gordon Lish? Read this from The New York Review of Books.   Thanks to former English 1B student Oshin Edralin, we have a YouTube video to watch about Lish and Carver. Here it is:

Eleven: [Recommended]:  For poetry by Carver go to this site at the Poetry Foundation and click the tab for "Poems, Articles and More." Poetry Soup has a pretty good sample of his poetry, too, as does All Poetry.

Carver described, in a Paris Review interview from the Summer 1983 issue, his writing process and the hard but pleasurable work involved in doing revisions: 

"Much of this work time, understand, is given over to revising and rewriting. There's not much that I like better than to take a story that I've had around the house for a while and work it over again. It's the same with the poems I write. I'm in no hurry to send something off just after I write it, and I sometimes keep it around the house for months doing this or that to it, taking this out and putting that in. It doesn't take that long to do the first draft of the story, that usually happens in one sitting, but it does take a while to do the various versions of the story. I've done as many as twenty or thirty drafts of a story. Never less than ten or twelve drafts."

For The Paris Review's complete interview with Carver, visit this page.

Group work at its finest? Or a staged photo op? From left to right, clockwise: Kary, Elizabeth, Elia, 
Nancy, Sara, and Stephanie, take on Carver's "Fever" at Shatford Library. (June 1, 2011.)

The Carver Gang discussing "What We Talk About When We Talk About Caffeine."
Clockwise, left to right: Stephanie, Tina, Sara, Kary, Brian, Some Guy, Kim and Nancy. June 8, 2011.

In the Paris Review interview, published in the Summer 1983 issue, Carver also discussed the purpose and pleasure of fiction:

"The days are gone, if they were ever with us, when a novel or a play or a book of poems could change people's ideas about the world they live in or even about themselves. Maybe writing fiction about particular kinds of people living particular kinds of lives will allow certain areas of life to be understood a little better than they were understood before. But I'm afraid that's it, at least as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps it's different in poetry. . . . Good fiction is partly a bringing of the news from one world to another. That end is good in and of itself, I think. But changing things through fiction, changing somebody's political affiliation or the political system itself, or saving the whales or the redwood trees, no. Not if these are the kinds of changes you mean. And I don't think it should have to do any of these things, either. It doesn't have to do anything. It just has to be there for the fierce pleasure we take in doing it, and the different kind of pleasure that's taken in reading something that's durable and made to last, as well as beautiful in and of itself. Something that throws off these sparks—a persistent and steady glow, however dim."

For The Paris Review's complete interview with Carver, visit this page.

"I'm not a 'born' poet. I don't know if I'm a 'born' anything except a white American male,Carver said of himself in the Paris Review interview from the Summer 1983 issue. Photograph by Marion Ettlinger for Carver's 1985 poetry collection, Where Water Comes Together With Other Water.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

1B: Selected Poets: Gerald Stern, Frank O’Hara, Galway Kinnell, Al Young, and Billy Collins

The Poems and the Poets
“The Dog” by Gerald Stern (586)
"The Day Lady Died" by Frank O’Hara (587)
“The Bear” by Galway Kinnell (589)
"A Dance for Ma Rainey" by Al Young (630)
"I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of 'Three Blind Mice'" by Billy Collins (634)


Gerald Stern (1925-).  Portrait by Michael Hafftka

Gerald Stern on the web: Academy of American PoetsPoetry FoundationPoetry Society of America, and The Rumpus.  An excerpt from The Rumpus interview follows.

The Rumpus: Talk to me about political poetry.

Gerald Stern: I don’t know what to say that hasn’t been said already. Not everyone confronts. Not everyone is summoned. It’s you who are “political,” it’s not what you say. Political means so many things. We are political willy-nilly. Political poetry is an easy invitation to disaster. But then so is love poetry. But we are a little more patient with bad love poetry. It might be an evil necessity that we want to get rid of—so we can go back to the other. Oppressed persons, oppressed cultures, tend to be more political, obviously, as are those with a rage for justice, or the crazy messianic desire. Oppressed cultures often envy those which are not, or oppressed individuals do, and sometimes those which—and who—are not envy those which—who—are.  All said before. Some are spokesmen, spokespeople: they can’t help themselves. They can’t think of anything else. Maybe they’re deprived, even depressed. If you don’t have a bed, or a dresser or a wall, or a book or a toy you are oppressed. An African American in a white world.  A Jew in a Christian world. A gypsy. A Native American. A Chinese American. Let’s say, you were born deprived. What then? Some don’t identify; they just don’t. Berryman’s best poetry was not (properly) political. Yet “The Imaginary Jew” (totally political) is his best story. It’s insane—why does a poet have to do it? Can’t he not?  I have left out what I don’t remember or don’t know. Temperament, fear, shyness, obedience, kindness. I use to be better at this!  This is the last time I’ll talk about it.

Rumpus: I want to ask you about caves. You wrote an essay all about caves in What I Can’t Bear Losing. You talked about physical and metaphysical caves, you looked at caves as places of both confinement and liberation, and you said at one point that the artist’s “job” is to be a cave dweller. How is being in the cave—the place of confinement and liberation—useful to the artist?

Stern: The cave is a dark, shadowy place. It’s a place that’s very close and yet distant at the same time, and it’s a place of revelation and isolation. Your form, your body, your writing is your confinement. It’s a kind of liberation to break free in language, if you can break free, but it’s also a confinement, because form confines you—whatever the form. I’m not talking necessarily about rhyme, though that’s certainly confinement. It’s through that form, through that discipline of writing, that you liberate yourself. You come into, through the isolation of writing even, an understanding, maybe of some form of detachment, which is a complicated and ambiguous word. Maybe being an artist is a kind of detachment. You’re in the cave, you’re isolated, you’re apart from everything and it’s there you can find out what you believe in, or what is—what is the nature of being, as you see it, you know?

Rumpus: This sounds very much like Buddhism.

Stern: Well, if the Buddhist’s job is to be detached, I think that the artist’s job is to be both detached and attached. We understand detachment, sort of, albeit in Buddhism it’s a different story than, say, Medieval Christian mysticism. For the Christian mystics, detachment meant to leave attachment so that God could enter you and take over completely and you could climb the ladder to their heaven. Kind of crazy, but what the hell? Attachment has to do with suffering, so it’s really close to Buddhism, because Buddhism wants to relieve you from suffering; you’re supposed to escape from suffering. But the artist’s job, as I see it, is to be both attached and detached.  How can he not embrace suffering?

For the full interview Rumpus conducted with Gerald Stern go here.

For your viewing pleasure watch Gerald Stern: Still Burning

Dave Groff conducted an interview with Tony Leuzzi about his new book of poems, The Burning Door in The Brooklyn Rail, June 5, 2014. Leuzzi makes a reference to Gerald Stern, who he interviewed in 2011: "I once asked Gerald Stern about the title of his book Everything is Burning, and he said, '[E]verything is being consumed on a literal level, everything is dying … But another name for burning is living. Everything is alive, everything is turning' (Passwords Primeval 153)." 

Tony Leuzzi: You have often been compared to Whitman. Could you talk about
your relationship to Whitman? In what ways do you see yourself as
his descendant? In what ways do you see yourself as different?

Gerald Stern: Charlie [C. K.] Williams just wrote an incredible book about
Whitman called On Whitman., which has been published by
Princeton. At first, I thought, "God, another book about Whitman?
I've got about ten upstairs in my office. What is Charlie going to say
that has not been said?" But he managed to say something new. He
talked about what Whitman meant to him, and about the music of the
poetry. A little while after the book was published, he got an email
from a woman in Tel Aviv who asked him why so many American
Jewish poets identify strongly with Whitman. Charlie sent the email
to me and I wrote a response to this woman, and explained what I
saw as the Jewish connection with Whitman.

I think Jewish poets easily identify with Whitman because he doesn't
really come out of the Protestant—the Christian—tradition. There is
such a tradition in English poetry whether the poet is an observant
Christian or not. Obviously Donne and Herbert are Christian
poets; and Byron—even Keats—can be seen as non-Christian,
even though the two of them come out of that tradition. I don't
think we've entirely resolved where he comes from; maybe the The
Bhagavad Gita, maybe Transcendetalism. When I talk about the
Christian tradition, I am talking about terms of reference, origin, and

I love Whitman, but I came to resent people saying I was "a
reincarnation" of him. It's just not true. There are some surface
similarities. I, like Whitman, use anaphora a lot. I taught Whitman
for years, of course, and read him, but I may have also gotten this
syntactical device from Blake or the Jewish Bible. Parallelisms,
too: the prophets as well as Whitman use them. So I came to resent
people identifying me with Whitman, and I began to resent Whitman
because of it, which is illogical of course, but then what's new? Why
all the focus on Whitman when I also loved Smart, Blake, Milton,
Roethke, late Shakespeare, and Chaucer. Rimbaud as well. Still, in
spite of resentments, I love Whitman. I think he was a great poet.

And I'm more and more beginning to see that he's a mystic, really,
particularly in his middle work, the poems he wrote in his late
30s—a kind of real mystic without realizing it. He thought he was
deriving information from the influence of opera, transcendentalism,
Emerson, Thoreau and such; he thought he was a kind of New
England poet, that his journalism stood him in good stead, as well as
his sympathy with African Americans at the time (though he didn't
take an extreme position), but finally there's something else that
maybe even he wasn't totally aware of and didn't pay much attention
to; even in his last years, when his powers declined, when he was
pushing his fame endlessly, writing letters, living in Camden, NJ,
the grand old man, revising his work. In any case, if you write in
the Protestant tradition, which is the dominant one, it excludes most
Jewish poets.

If the link to the above interview does not work, search Tony Leuzzi, "An Interview with Gerald Stern," Great River ReviewFall/Winter2011, Issue 55, 4-27. 24

Gerald Stern on the PBS NewsHour 

Frank O'Hara (1926-66)
A good place to start for Frank O'Hara on the web: www.frankohara.org. it has his poetry, audio, video and more. O'Hara worked at the Museum of Modern Art and this essay discusses how his poetry and painting mix. Other websites to visit: Poetry Foundation and Academy of American Poets. Here is O'Hara reading "Having a Coke with You":

O'Hara, as you know, wrote "The Day Lady Died" as a remembrance of Billie Holiday.  Watch and listen to performances of Holiday singing "One for My Baby (and one more for the road)," "Now Baby or Never," and  "Strange Fruit".  More about the original lyrics and the man who wrote "Strange Fruit" can be found at NPRPBS [i]NDEPENDENT LENS, and The New York Times Book Review; here's the first chapter from Strange Fruit. "Strange Fruit" is considered one of the greatest songs of the 20th Century and certainly one of the greatest about racism in America. If you've never heard Holiday sing, it is about time you take a few minutes and do.  More of Holiday singing can be seen at this video documentary

Billie Holiday singing "Strange Fruit" (mid-to-late1950s)


Galway Kinnell (1927--) at Battery Park City, New York.  Photo by Mark Woods.

Galway Kinnell on the web: his website, at the Academy of American Poets website. and at The Poetry Foundation website.  You can listen to him reading a selection of works by poets Blake, Coleridge, Keats, Whitman and Dickinson. More of his own poetry can be found here.

Kinnell reading "The Bear" in the early 1970s.

In the following excerpt from a 2001 Daniela Gioseffi conducted with Kinnell, Kinnell talks about his work in the Civil Rights movement and its connection to his poetry.

Daniela Gioseffi: I know that you worked in the cause of registering black voters during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's. . . . Can you say something about that work that you did then and what went on around you and why you were involved in it as someone who was really a poet at heart?

Galway Kinnell: Ah, well, it was mostly that I found it unbearable to live in a segregated society. In my childhood in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, I wasn't really aware of the prevalence of segregation because, though practically everybody was an immigrant, they were almost all from Europe. There were no immigrants from the black populations of the South or the Caribbean in my school. In my childhood I saw very few people of color. In my grammar school, there was one Jewish person. I learned about segregation later, when I traveled about the country and spent time in the South. But when I actually came to discover it, I found it shocking and horrifying. I think when I first became aware of it I was at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, near Tennessee. I went down there for a summer on my GI bill. And there was a black writer who came to visit, and I went into town with him. He had to buy a train ticket and I went to the train station with him. Well, the amount of fuss produced by a white and a black man walking together was obvious. He grew worried, but I didn’t, because I just didn’t realize that it was a dangerous thing for us to walk together talking as friends. Afterwards, I talked with him about it and he conveyed the experiences of his life that made him too wary of the situation. Then, I came to know other black people, and heard more of their experiences and read more and more about the history of it all, and realized that it wasn’t a phenomenon confined to just the Southern states, but that it was pretty much a national phenomenon. Certainly New York was a segregated city then, and still is to a significant degree.

Daniela Gioseffi: Yes.

Galway Kinnell: When I went down there to work in the South, I thought it would be unseemly for me to "use" the situation down there as material for art, and I decided not to write a word while I was there. I put aside everything having to do directly with poetry and just did my work as a Civil Rights worker. A couple of years later I realized that was a serious mistake, I had misunderstood the relationship of art and life.

Daniela Gioseffi: It was idealistic, but all the same, the more said anywhere and everywhere, the better, yes?

Galway Kinnell: Exactly. It was ignorant idealism. I should have gone down there thinking that my job was two-fold, one was to do the work of voter registration and desegregation and the other was to write about all this to be as informative as possible through poetry or any other form of writing my pen might have taken. Later, I tried to write about it, but what I wrote lacked the life that it might have had originally.

For all of the above interview, click on this or click on this.

Kinnell in Selma, Alabama, 1965, with student organizer Harriet Richardson.  Photo by Charles Lee Moore. 


Al Young (1939--) Over Bay of Naples.  Is this a selfie? Or taken by PC Mack?

Al Young's website you can get lost in the many audio and video podcasts. Young, who served as California's poet laureate from  is featured on an NPR program where he talks about poetry and music.  Since he has written about Ma Rainey and we will read his poem about her, take time to read this biography of her, too.  She was known as the Mother of the Blues (1886-1939).  If the question remains: Who was Ma Rainey? If the question remains a pretty good answer is here.

"Deep Moaning Blues," above, sung by Ma Rainey in 1928. She is accompanied by the Tub Jug Washboard Band.

Al Young spoke at Google in 2009.  He gives a wonderful overview of the nature of poetry
 before he discusses his love of music, sings (he has a beautiful voice), and reads a sample of his poetry.

Young's website has an extensive interview with him.  It appears to be in the style of a FAQ, one that he wrote about himself. He addressed topics related to new technology and storytelling.  Here's an excerpt: 

Question: Haven’t the movies and hi-tech media supplanted books, the printed word, and old-fashioned storytelling?

Answer: Yes and no. Bombarded with graphic and visual imagery, many people, who do their reading on-screen, regard printed matter as an adjunct to watching something. Because it is easy to confound data and information with knowledge, training routinely passes for education. Giving thought to some matter or problem isn’t the same as following instructions or acting on orders or command. The reason I have dutifully hyperlinked so many of my literary references in this biography and FAQ page is that I would be naive to expect viewers who didn’t grow up with books in a bricks-and-mortar library as I did to know much of anything about writers or cultural movements or historical developments to which I so casually and matter of factly allude as I speak. When an unaware viewer clicks into a link, she or who may glimpse a bit of what I’m talking about. We dwell in an age when books are respected (even people who don’t read often ache to write a book), but film and video is revered. I’ve lived long enough to know a lot of stuff I think needs to be passed along to others. Figuring out how best to do this forces me to experiment. The human voice and vibratory frequencies we emit without knowing it play a big role in oral storytelling; not the funded kind. The listener, the reader, the viewer — each of us becomes an irreducible and essential part of the storytelling process. So, re-phrasing this answer to this question, I would say: No and yes. No good story ever needs to wait around for somebody to film it.

Al Young at CalArts, 2006, with pianist Kenn Cox and bassist Edwin LivingstonPhoto: Harris Hartsfield

Billy Colllins (1941--)
painting by 

To learn about Billy Collins, who served as U.S. Poet Laureate, 2001-03, see these websites: Poetry FoundationAcademy of American Poets, Stephen Barclay Agency and Library of Congress online resources. Paris Review interviewed Collins for its Art of Poetry series.  Here's an excerpt:

What inspires that first line? Is it something you see? Is it a passing thought, a line of someone else’s work?
There can be remote influences, but I think the line itself comes out of talking to yourself. It’s a matter of paying attention to the detritus that floats through your head all the time—little phrases that through your own self-talking, your talk monitor, sometimes pop up. Also, I try to start the poem conversationally. Poems, for me, begin as a social engagement. I want to establish a kind of sociability or even hospitality at the beginning of a poem. The title and the first few lines are a kind of welcome mat where I am inviting the reader inside. What I do with the reader later can be more complicated, but the beginning of the poem is a seductive technique for me, a way of making a basic engagement. Then I hope the poem gets a little bit ahead of me and the reader.

The full Paris Review interview with Collins can be found here.

Billy Collins reads
 "I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey's Version of 'Three Blind Mice'"

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers play "Three Blind Mice" (1962)

Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers - "Blue Moon" Feat. Freddie Hubbard

Collins was the U.S. poet laureate (2001-2003) when American poets were invited by President and Mrs. Bush to read and discuss the work of Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman at The White House.  The planned symposium drew protests of the war in Iraq, so many poets declined the opportunity to appear. Other poets wished to appear and take advantage of the setting to protest the war in Iraq and get their message out. The White House cancelled the symposium.

Collins discussed this controversy with The New York Times, February 23, 2013. 

Q: As the poet laureate of the United States, I assume that you were invited to the White House symposium on poetry that was canceled recently once some poets began planning to use the event to protest war in Iraq.

Collins: Yes, I was. I would have gone if it had been held, to see what was going to happen. Politicizing the event has resulted in its cancellation and perhaps the end of literary events at the White House.

Q: Could it really have that effect?

Collins: I don't know. I've always tried to keep the West and East Wings separate. I think the loss in this particular case was the opportunity to look at Whitman and Dickinson. In the middle of both of their lives occurred the central trauma of our country, the Civil War. And Whitman more or less jumped into action. He served as a volunteer nurse and wrote a poem, ''Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night,'' where he holds the body of a dead boy and buries him. Whereas Emily Dickinson just stuck to her knitting, and her knitting just happened to do with immortality and death and the grave. It is a wonderful demonstration of the choice that poets have, to deal with the world around them in whatever way they think best.

To see the remainder of the interview, click on this.

Collins gives a TED talk, "Everyday Moments Caught in Time." 
He presented it in February 2012. It runs for about 15 minutes. 

The Country

by Billy Collins

I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time—

now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?

"The Country" by Billy Collins, from Nine Horses: Poems. © Random House, 2003. Reprinted with permission.

Colllins reads "The Country" with animation.